Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

2019 Conference Schedule


8:15-8:45am BEST Conference Center, KU Edwards Campus:

Arrival and coffee

8:45-9am Welcome and Announcements

9-9:50am Opening Industry Panel

10-11:30 Extended Breakouts (90 minutes)

Kelly Light
Character Counts: The importance of “WHO” you are drawing and the how and the why…Character design, acting with your pencil and gestures. Bring your pencils and paper along with the characters that you need help with. We can learn to turn them, fix problems with proportions and put some life in ‘em!

Trisha de Guzman
Whodunnit? Using Mystery and Other Genre Tropes to Make Your Writing Stronger: Join editor Trisha de Guzman as she teaches you how to incorporate time-tested ideas and tropes into your writing to strengthen plot and better engage the reader.

Alexandra Levick
How to Find the Right Literary Agent: You know you need an agent, so the search is on. But where do you begin? In this breakout, Alexandra will share resources to help with the search and research phase, tips on how to synthesize the information, and perhaps most importantly, the questions to ask yourself to judge if you’ve found a good fit. As if this wasn’t enough, she’ll also give a surface level dive into the world of query letters, pitches, and the always dreaded synopsis.

Katie Heit
Making Every Word Count: How to Make Your Picture Book Text Sing. Join editor Katie Heit as she discusses what makes a successful picture book text, the editorial picture book process, and how to use word count to your advantage.

11:45-12:45pm LUNCH

1-1:55pm Breakouts

Jim Hoover
Illustrating for Nonfiction: Join art director Jim Hoover as he breaks down what works, and what doesn’t, in illustrating for nonfiction. We will take a look at workflow and geek out together on the joys of visual research and going down the rabbit hole of fact-finding.


Niki Lenz
Using Personality Types to Craft Characters: This session will focus on how you can use Enneagram numbers to help round out, or plan, your characters. Enneagram numbers are different from many personality type tests because they don’t just tell you what is great about your character, they give you a set of flaws for each number. And we all know, every great character comes with flaws. Gain insight into the hidden depths of your characters.

Giselle Anatol
Writing a Culture that’s Not Your Own:Some of the most compelling narratives in fiction for children and young adults bring characters to life whose experiences are vastly different from the writer’s. This might be in terms of age (e.g. Maurice Sendak’s Max), gender (e.g. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter), time period (e.g. Karen Cushman’s Catherine, called Birdy), culture (e.g. Scott O’Dell’s Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphins), race (Elizabeth Yates’ Amos Fortune), religion (Laura Moriarty’s Sadaf in American Heart). This session will focus on race and culture, bringing some of these books, and several others, into conversation. We will explore the value of creating a more diverse population of characters and narratives for young readers, but also what is at stake when writing a culture that is not your own is handled without sensitivity and careful research.

Sue Gallion
Beginnings, Endings, and that Murky Middle: In a picture book manuscript, the beginning, middle, and ending all happen in less than 500 words – sometimes a lot less! We’ll discuss some picture book manuscript pitfalls and revision strategies, using current picture books as examples.

2:10-3:05pm Breakouts

Kelly Light
Draw it Again, Sam: The importance of revision is always stressed for writing. But now, let’s talk about it for drawing. Not falling in love with your first drawing of a character is just the start!

Sarah Jane Abbott
Have a “Heart”: Writing Picture Books with a Message in Mind: As creators of picture books, we have the privilege and responsibility of making books that children will read at an important and formative time in their lives.  When writing a manuscript with a message in mind, how can we communicate that message in a non-didactic way while telling a fun and entertaining story? In this session, we’ll talk about writing picture books with “heart,” rather than with a “moral.”  We’ll explore different techniques to incorporate heart into a story, from metaphor to symbolism to allegory, and talk about crafting stories with multiple levels of meaning that are open-ended enough to spark discussion.

Quressa Robinson
Plotting and Characterization: The Art of Conflict and Personality. Using classic craft techniques and exercises, we’ll plot stories as well as develop existing and new characters.

Alexandra Levick
Get Noticed! The query letter episode: In this session, Alexandra will deep dive into how to write the most effective and compelling letters to pique an agent’s interest. Please bring a sample query letter for on-the-spot query letter workshopping.

3:15-4:10pm Breakouts

Jim Hoover
Pacing and Picture Book Dummy: Ever wonder what makes some dummies stand out and others fall flat? Pacing is often the answer. Join Jim as he walks you through what works, and what doesn’t, in picture book dummy pacing.

Trisha de Guzman
Editing from the Margins: No matter the type, style, or genre, all works needs editing. In this session, Trisha will give some of her editing pointers and techniques to help you take your work to the next level. From PB’s to YA—we all need to edit!

Alyssa Eisner Henkin
Regional and Ethnic Flavors and How We’re Spicing Up the Middle Grade Canon: In this workshop and Q&A, we will discuss the #ownvoices movement as well as the many manifestations and definitions of diversity, including the importance of regional writers. Bring your questions to this welcoming discussion.

Katie Heit
Keeping Nonfiction Interesting: Editor Katie Heit explores how nonfiction can capture young readers’ attention, the best practices and pitfalls when writing nonfiction for children, and how to balance research with craft.

4:30-5pm Keynote: Quressa Robinson

5-5:30pm Book Signing and Faculty Reception


8:30-11:30am INTENSIVES @ The Doubletree Overland Park

Sarah Jane Abbott
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Revise, Revise Again: As a writer, sometimes you’ll have a character or a story you love, but the manuscript just isn’t working.  Instead of abandoning the idea, delve into intensive revisions! This workshop will provide tips and tricks for overhauling your picture book manuscript.  We’ll cover topics like strengthening character and plot and focusing the heart of the story, as well as various revision exercises like blind rewrites, changing the POV, making a dummy to check pacing, and more.

Quressa Robinson
Developmental Editing: Being Your Own Editor: A developmental edit looks at the structure and content of your book, and addresses issues with tone, audience, and character arcs. In this intensive, participants will learn how to do a developmental edit on their own work as well as that of their peers. Bring some samples of your work for in-class exercises.

Alyssa Eisner Henkin
THE Agent Intensive: In this 3-hour deep dive, Alyssa will walk you through everything you need to know about the query process. From query letters, to the dreaded synopsis, right on through to the hoped-for full manuscript request—this intensive will give you a behind the scenes look at what agents are thinking, what they want, and (most importantly) what they dislike.

*Topics and/or descriptions may change